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Author Tony Abou-Ganim’s “Vodka Distilled” hits shelves

Staff Writer
Austin 360

I’ve always been skeptical about vodka.

The ubiquitous, neutrally-flavored spirit never held my attention sipped neat, and doesn’t do much for cocktails, either. I always wondered “what exactly is the point of drinking vodka, outside of simply acquiring a healthy buzz?”

Or at least that was my prevailing school of thought until I experienced my first vodka seminar led by expert Tony Abou-Ganim at last year’s Food and Wine Festival. As you can read in my review of the blind vodka tasting he lead during the fest, his enthusiasm and deep familiarity with the spirit was infectious. I learned that not only do various vodkas have tangible differences in quality, but also subtle nuances in flavor. It was an interesting moment for this dedicated whiskey and tequila lover.

So when I heard Abou-Ganim was going to write a book on the history, definition and evaluation of America’s favorite clear spirit, I knew his authority and passion would make it a definitive guide. The book, “Vodka Distilled,” came out earlier this year. With thorough research and engaging photography, it has exceeded my expectations.

It’s a practical tool for people with a mild interest in the spirit, those who are looking for nitty gritty details about its production, and those seeking guidance about which styles and brands to explore or purchase.

The book begins with a history of vodka from its European roots to the current wave of popularity in the States, and demystifies the production process from raw materials to packaging and pricing. Conveyed with a conversational tone, Abou-Ganim manages to condense hundreds of years of information and into an easily digestible timeline, and with the help of a few handy illustrations, distills the production process down from intimidating scientific jargon to layman terms.

The bulk of the rest of the book provides practical information and advice to help the average drinker enjoy vodka to it’s full potential. What temperature is ideal for sipping? Ice or no ice? What kind of glass should it be served in? Abou-Ganim addresses the gamut of questions one might have before divulging a handful of cocktail recipes, ranging from vintage classics to modern concoctions.

Glancing through the cocktail recipes (and drooling over the beautifully conducted photography along the way), the majority of recipes are a step up from what your average vodka soda drinker might be comfortable consuming, but despite an array of artisan ingredients, many are so approachable that they’d be an easy transition from the simple mixed beverage. On the flip side, there are also recipes that will appeal to the snobbiest of craft cocktail enthusiasts as well, like The Wizard, which features vodka, Cinzano Bianco, yellow Chartreuse and orange bitters.

Finally, the “Taste and Tasteability” section guides readers through tips on how to conduct a proper vodka tasting. The chart on tasting descriptors for is so helpful, I’ve used it for evaluating other spirits outside of vodka as well. Then Abou-Ganim wraps up with an exploration of 58 brand name vodkas divided by base ingredient (rye, wheat, potato, etc.). The tasting notes are compiled from a panel of professionals in the booze industry, ensuring that multiple perspectives are included.

Keep your eyes out for the author at this year’s Austin Food and Wine Festival , when he returns for the second year in a row to present on Latin Libations and Ernest Hemingway.